|148th PVI Company C
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We’re standing at the wall, when we heard their spirits call. Whatever happened to our Fame? We never left this place, for we would not be disgraced, there were no medals for our slain. A defiant battle cry, they held their colors high and for America they fell. Upon this sacred ground they laid their brothers down as faithful soldiers here they held. So raise your glasses high for the boxwood and the green. Here’s to the memory of O’Kane; To Bradley and McShaa, they are heroes to our brave, the “Rock of Erin” is their name.
This is what we did on the 3rd of July 2013. We sang in their honor; the songs the boys would have sung in camps or wherever they may have been with the Army of the Potomac. It was a hard life, walking almost everywhere an army of 150,000 men would have gone. They followed the enemy as it crisscrossed over the Virginia and Carolina countryside. This day however we formed up at the Rupp House, we read the names of all the men who were present on July 2nd and 3rd. Then we walked from the Rupp House in downtown Gettysburg, one mile down the Emittsburg Road to the National Park grounds to where the 69th PA Irish were positioned. A nice crowd of about 200 visitors was still on hand as they saw us marching along Hancock Avenue toward that 180-foot position along the stone wall. We stood at the Wall. At this spot 150 years ago 283 men would hold the line and make their legacy known. When the fighting had ceased 137 more men were casualties of this long and horrible war… The first paragraph is a verse of a song we sing in honor of those brave men who would not give up their place in the fight for freedom and liberty of all men. They fought against a way of life they believed was contrary to the will of God. No man is better than the next. It doesn’t matter about education. It only matters that we are free enough to pursue any path we feel fits our needs. They could see the tyranny of the southern hierarchy. They believed they knew where this was heading and they didn’t want this for their new adopted homeland spoiled this way. Baptism in blood was the only way to cleanse and defeat such tyranny.
They probably didn’t know what Thomas Jefferson had said during the birth of our nation. Quote: “The tree of liberty, from time to time, must be replenished with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” They did know what the abuse of citizen and common folks from their former homes across the big pond. Their feelings remained very strong and bitter.
After two days of bitter fighting on the 1st and 2nd of July 1863 the fighting would finally come to a single charge across an open field of about a mile in distance. Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble lined up their men. The artillery thought they had done their work, but it fell far short of what they had thought it to do. When nearly 15,000 men are coming toward you, with the intent of doing you harm, you’re scared. Any man who tells you different is a fool. We can only imagine what they felt. I can tell what we felt. We were in awe of these numbers of men who just kept coming. They seemed endless in their procession; all the time falling on deaths threshold. Each step becoming ever more difficult to make, yet still they came. The few who did make it to the wall were either captured or mortally wounded or killed. The rest hobbled back to their lines, some willing to give it another chance. We almost made it; we could have made it. Just give us the men to try again. But the answer from General Lee was, “No, it is all my fault. We will rest and fight another day.”
The defeated rebels wouldn’t do that this day. For another week their army would try to get back to their home state of Virginia. Many small battles would follow this tragic event in southern history. The rains came and cleansed the ground of the blood that had drenched it for those three days in July, 150 years ago. The rain, however could not cleanse the air of all the dead men and horses that still spotted the landscape for days and weeks after the battle.
Time alone would heal this small crossroad town. It would take its rightful place in the history of our nation. Now millions travel to the site of the largest land battle in the history of our country. Tourists and veteran living historians get to see the ground these men fought on and to hear their stories. The stories they themselves have written on the nearly 1,400 markers that appear on these now peaceful hill.
I’ve been there so many times and yet I still learn something new each time. Each Remembrance Day, the weekend closest to November 19th we gather to celebrate their lives and the sacrifice they paid for freedom. I can never fully appreciate what these men did on these fields. We can only in our vain way try. We can only show our children the sacrifice they made on July 1-2-3 of 1863.
Image source: nps.gov
The invasion of Pennsylvania was seen by General Lee as an attempt to push the northern citizens into pressuring their government into a peaceful end to over two years of war. The sacrifices on both side was very high and with no real end in sight. 1st and 2nd Manassas, were history, Antietam was the single bloodiest day of the war with 23,000 casualties in 12 hours of fighting. Chancellorsville was fought to a near draw. By this I mean Lee lost his most valuable asset, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee felt he needed to do something out of the box. Gettysburg wasn’t the main objective. Harrisburg and other small cities were targeted for ransom. The railroad junction at Harrisburg was a very good reason to come north into our fair state. But, town like Shippensburg, Carlisle, Hanover and Mechanicsburg all saw rebel activity days before the focus was diverted back to the cross road town of Gettysburg. A railroad spur had not yet been completed into town, but they were getting close. When the seemingly small skirmish at Gettysburg grew out of control, both armies became committed to an all out battle. When you really think about it; it was the near perfect place for the Union to anchor in on the high grounds south of town. It was just unfortunate that the entire event started west of town and they had to fight back through the streets.
The first day’s battle was a defensive holding maneuver by General John Buford Cavalry until the balance of the First Corp under PA native General John Reynolds could arrive on the field. When he did get on the field, he was a leader of men. The advance of the rebel forces was moving rather fast and the good General found himself being among the first command casualties. It is on this first day’s fighting that our own Juniata County men see what was to become their first and last baptism under fire. The 151st and primarily Company “D” regiment had already suffered over 50% casualties through sickness and disease. On this day they would see almost 74% casualties in killed and wounded. The list below will show you that price paid.
After the first days fighting coming to an end and the Union Army finding themselves positioned on extraordinary high ground, with a shorter interior line. This was all good and a tribute to the fine leadership under the Union command at this time. The second days fighting was again costly, but without any real movement from the high ground position. General James Longstreet argued with General Lee from the beginning that the fight should have been driven south to another place that favored the rebels. This argument was to no effect. On the third days fighting the Union forces found the advantage much to their liking. There were over 13,000 men on Pickett, Pettigrew and Trimble’s Charge. Barely 1/3 of them made it back to their line.
150th Anniversary Event
I can only try to express the amount of anxiety, excitement and the adrenaline rush that comes from re-enacting a particular event in history. The smaller battle scenarios are almost always a rush. Add to that the smell of the smell of black powder, sweat, and the yelling of officers maneuvering their men into position. Also add this, the occasional casualty falling in the line and the reality of what really happened then starts to sink into your mind. The only thing really missing is the actual blood and carnage of battle.
Fifteen years ago on the same field we did the 135th Anniversary event. We had 27,000 re-enactors on the field in 1998. That year they managed to get the 13,000 men coming off of Seminary Ridge. The sight was something I’ll never forget. As the men crossed the open field, casualties started to occur. When the rebels reached the Emittsburg Road many more went down. The split rail fence slowed their forward movement. Much time was lost removing the rails. All this time men are going down, and you feel sad at the loss of so many.
Though on a much smaller scale; Picket’s Virginians along with Trimble and Pettigrew’s South Carolinians fought bravely up to the wall before falling to the rear. The day was lost and they knew it. They couldn’t fight any further.
The conclusion of the day was when we finally yelled, “Fredericksburg- Fredericksburg.” Remembering what had happened to them at their Maryes Heights wall in December 13th 1862. With the battle concluded, we shook hands across the wall. Then turned and marched off the battlefield with a sense of satisfaction knowing we had done our duty in remembering their sacrifice. Over 53,000 casualties occurred during those three days in July 1863. We honored their memory on the 150th Anniversary.
150 Years Ago
Those listed below are a few of the wounded from the great Battle of Gettysburg, July 1st 2nd and 3rd 1863
Don "Red" Husler (dehirishATcenturylink.net) is a veteran reenactor and journalist from Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.